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2 poems by Mary Ford Neal

A Garden

If one day I am walking in a garden

and he sees me, I will pretend to be deep

in conversation on the phone

and if – undeterred – he intercepts me

and says ‘Mary!’, I will say

‘Who?’ and screw up my face

as though dazzled, even if it is dark.

In that moment, I may decide to use

a different accent. Perhaps I will pretend

never to have heard of myself, or maybe I will be

my own cousin. He will be disoriented

by the audacity of the pretence, and by its cruelty

(as will I—we both believed I would never deny him)

but he will stand aside and let me pass.

Swan dive

You promised a spectacle. You promised to swan dive

from the castle walls, glide above the forests and disappear

beyond the mountains, but you are a liar.

For many weeks we have been growing impatient,

our hopes raised each time you emerge from your tower

and step toward the battlements as though spellbound,

but every time you seem about to do what you promised,

you flinch and retreat. We’ve tried to keep faith with you,

but we understand now that there is no swan dive in you

at all. We see you for what you are—a liar, a coward,

and above all, a disappointment. The word charlatan

would not be too strong. The word charlatan is not used

enough these days, and what better term for one

who promised what she knew she could never deliver?

After such a disappointment, who could condemn us

if we stormed your castle, climbed up to your tower

with its sturdy defences and all its magnificent views

and forced the charlatan to keep her word? Even then

we would only be taking a fraction of what we are owed.

We accept now that we’ll never see you soar over the forests

or vanish behind the mountains, but at the very least

we can have the swan dive, or something like it.


Mary Ford Neal is a writer and academic from Glasgow, Scotland. She is the author of two recent poetry collections: ‘Relativism’ (Taproot Press, 2022) and ‘Dawning’ (Indigo Dreams, 2021). Her poetry is published/forthcoming in a range of print and online journals, and has received several Pushcart and BOTN nominations.


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